Edinburgh #2: The Royal Yacht Britannia

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September 15th 2021
Published: November 1st 2021
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After a good night's sleep I was ready for breakfast. The hotel we were staying in didn't provide breakfast, but had a deal with the adjacent pub, so we headed there. I was rather surprised at how busy the pub was as most of the tables were taken. We were shown to a table and given menus to peruse. I opted for the Eggs Royale. It didn't take long for our drinks to turn up, but we waited about 50 minutes for the food. I know the pub was quite busy, but most people appeared to have already eaten. One poor couple ended up having to cancel their order. I did really enjoy my meal when it did arrive, but I wish there had been some salad or something with it as the Eggs Royale looked a bit lonely on the plate.

We headed to the bus stop to get the bus out to Ocean Terminal in Leith as we were visiting the Royal Yacht Britannia. We took bus no. 35 from opposite the National Museum of Scotland. The journey didn't take too long, about 30-40 minutes and it was nice to see more of the city and also a bit of Leith. I would like to come back and spend some time in Leith. Where the bus dropped us, near the Ocean Terminal, was a bit of a building site. We made our way to the Ocean Terminal shopping mall and followed the signs up to the entrance for the Royal Yacht Britannia. I think pretty much everybody must get a shock as the mall is pretty dead, but when you get upstairs and closer to the entrance for the yacht, there was a rather large queue. I wasn't expecting to see that many people there. Although the queue was long, it moved quickly and the check in was painless. As you make your way around to yacht, there are a lot of displays and information to read, but due to the queue and wanting to keep moving, we skimmed over most of it. It was funny to look at the pictures of old royal vessels as some centuries ago were tiny and not grand at all.

You could either download the audio tour to your phone or get a handset to listen to it on, which we did. After getting those we made our way out to the yacht. The Royal Yacht Britannia was Queen Elizabeth II's royal yacht in service from 1954 until it was decommissioned in 1997. During its service, the yacht travelled more than one million nautical miles. In 1994, it was decided that the yacht would be decommissioned due to high costs of refurbishment and it is kind of came full circle as it came to rest in Leith as it was built in Scotland in Clydebank, Dunbartonshire. We started up on the top deck in the bridge. I know none of the technical terms for stuff and can't remember much from the audio guide. I think, if I remember correctly, that the captain didn't originally steer from up here, but was down below on the next level in the wheelhouse. So the captain/yachtsmen were guided by orders that travelled down voice pipes from the bridge. From here we headed out and had a walk around the outside. I liked the views even if there wasn't too much to see. The area is very flat and there were some new fancy looking apartments being built in one direction.

The audio tour took us down a level and into the Admiral's Quarters. Over the years, there were Vice Admirals, Rear Admirals, and lastly a Commodore that were in charge, these men were all flag officers, which is a very senior rank and shows the importance of being the Commanding Officer of Britannia. The Admiral's Quarters was pretty nice. The sitting room was large and set out for entertaining. There was also a cute little kitchen. We emerged outside again and as we walked along we passed a Land Rover. I presume it was used by the Royal Family when they docked. Next, we came to the Verandah Deck, which is where the Royal Family relaxed in private. The deck was pretty large and there was already quite a queue forming to visit the tea room on the Royal Deck above. The Royal Deck is where the Royal Family used to entertain and play games. I had quite fancied having either afternoon tea or coffee and a cake up there, but I was still too stuffed from breakfast we thought about going after we'd finished our tour of the ship, but we were still too full then. We made our way into the Sun Lounge, which is said to have been the Queen's favourite place on the ship. It is a lovely teak lined room and I can see why it would be a favourite place to relax in. From here, we had a look around the Royal Apartment, which is the Royal Family's living quarters. I was quite surprised that the Queen and Prince Philip had separate but connecting bedrooms complete with single beds. The only double bed on the ship was in the bedroom used by Charles and Diana.

We made our way downstairs and continued to tour the Royal Apartment. We had a look around an informal sitting room, complete with bar and an informal dining room. Next was the State Dining Room, which is the largest and grandest room on Britannia. The table was set for the State Visit to Sweden and there was a seating plan so you could see who attended and who sat where. I also liked looking at the different things that were displayed on the walls, I think most were gifts from foreign dignitaries. There was also the State Drawing Room. This was used for the Royal Family to relax and also was a reception room. Although the room is pretty big, I was surprised to find out that it could accommodate up to 250 people.

Back outside, we passed what I think was a speedboat. Then back on the boat, we were now in the Crews' Quarters. First we wandered through a bar room called the 'Verge Inn'. Then it was onto the sleeping quarters. There were a few different rooms to wander around and I didn't think that they were too bad. After watching the TV show 'Vigil' these bunkrooms were palatial in comparison. I suppose it would be different when they were filled with all the yachtsmen and their stuff. I also really liked looking at the stickers that they'd attached to their lockers as it added a bit of personality to the place. We passed through another bar. What is it with bars on this ship, there are so many, I'm surprised anyone was actually sober on it. The NAAFI shop had been shut due to Covid, so we couldn't get a look around that. We did get to see the tiny post office/mail room. We wandered along the corridors and came to the sick bay. I found this really interesting. I wouldn't have fancied climbing up to the top bunk if I was ill. When Britannia was built the sick bay had been designed so that it could be converted into a hospital ship during wartime. The medical staff on board would look after the health and welfare of the Yacht Company, the Royal Household and embarked guests. However, the Queen also travelled with her own physician. We came to the laundry next. I was quite surprised at how big it was. I suppose it's one of those things that you need, but it wouldn't have instantly sprung to mind. There were 240 Officers and Yachtsmen on board so that would be a fair few changes of uniform. I didn't find it shocking that the crew were charged for laundry, it wasn't a lot, but still it's not like they had other options.

The final part of the ship that we visited was the Engine Room. We had a walk around here and the rooms connected to it. There was also an exhibition on in one of the rooms so we had a look at that. We had seen all that we wanted to see, so we headed back up to the entrance and had a look around the gift shop. There was plenty on offer, but nothing I wanted. We then had a bit of a look around the Ocean Terminal shopping mall. It really felt like a soulless place. There were lots of chain restaurants, none that looked appealing and only a few shops. The only decent shop appeared to be The Leith Collective, which sold stuff made by local artists.

We took the bus back into Edinburgh and decided to get a late lunch. We ended up at a cute French patisserie/café called La Brabantine Victoria, which was close to our hotel. We chose the La Quiche végétarienne and a La Savoie sandwich, which contained Bayonne ham, sun-blush tomatoes, raclette cheese, mustard and lettuce. The café is quite small, but since it was after the traditional lunchtime, it wasn't busy. There are also a couple of tables outside, but I didn't fancy sitting out there as I think it would be too close to all the people walking past. The quiche and sandwich were really, really delicious and I thoroughly enjoyed them. I'm glad that we didn't end up eating on the Royal Yacht Britannia as this place was a real gem. I had been admiring the cakes in the window and decided to get a couple to take away. Back at the hotel, we had a rest, a cuppa and tucked into the cakes. I had ordered a St. Honoré cake as it looked quite cute and I was expecting to be rather underwhelmed as in past experiences pretty cakes lack in substance. I was happy to be proven very wrong. The cake was one of the best I've ever had. The choux pastry was filled with white chocolate and the whole thing had a nice dollop of cream and salted caramel on it to hold it together. The base was a crunchy praliné biscuit. Absolutely fabulous! When I return to Edinburgh, I need to make a return trip here. I also sampled a little bit of the raspberry tart, which was yummy.

Later on, after resting up and when we inevitably got hungry again, we headed out. We fancied Thai for dinner and there were a few places that looked good. We set off for one, a 5 minute walk away, however when we got to the street we couldn't find the restaurant anywhere. The other place we thought looked good was back past our accommodation and instead of tackling the hills of the Old Town, we took the longer flatter route. We had a nice walk up Princes Street, past the garden and having a nose to see what shops were available on the other side of the road for later. We skirted the edge of the Haymarket and West End parts of the city. I haven't really been to these parts of the city so that's another place for me to explore on a return journey.

The last part of the walk to the restaurant where we intended to have dinner was a bit sketchy. The area was really quiet, quite dark and deserted. It didn't feel like we were in the city anymore. The restaurant was on a street with a few other restaurants/bars and opposite a theatre, but it felt like we were in lockdown UK due to the quietness. The restaurant, Spirit of Thai, was small but not too busy when we arrived. We had to do a temperature check before we were shown to our seats. That's a first for me in the UK, but it's nice to see that they are still taking the pandemic seriously as many people and places seem to think it's all over. We were given some nice spicy prawn crackers to munch on as we studied the menu. Since we weren't too hungry, we just had a couple of mains. The chicken Massaman curry was delicious with huge hunks of potato in it. One of my favourite dishes when in Thailand is Phad Graprow (Holy Basil stir fry), which I'm sure is often made with pork, so I was rather surprised to see that pork was not an option on the menu. I opted for the tofu and mushroom. I wasn't disappointed as my dish was really good, spicy but not too hot and very garlicky. I only wish there had been more mushrooms as I adore them. It was another nice short walk back to our hotel after dinner to rest up.

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